June 19, 2013
More to schoolmasters than paymasters
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
An agreement with Iran may have been the biggest recent priority while sweeping court reforms loom for this month but perhaps the real worry should be the continuing teacher strikes this week in Buenos Aires province and numerous other smaller districts. In an election year this pay dispute has been inevitably politicized and it is widely assumed that the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the 11-digit sum Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli needs to bring his province’s teachers anywhere near the 22 percent floor set by the national government — with the evident aim of destroying his 2015 presidential aspirations by presenting him as administratively inefficient. And yet the fact that the far more pro-CFK provinces of Tierra del Fuego and Santiago del Estero cannot offer their teachers more than eight percent (less than half the 17.8 percent thus far mustered by Scioli) suggests that the problem might go far beyond a highly discriminatory distribution of federal revenue-sharing funds.
Nobody seems to have the courage to address the issue (least of all CFK in Friday’s state-of-the-nation speech after running into some flak this time last year for a schoolmistress-like rebuke of the profession) but the simple reality is that an army of nearly a million (960,000) teachers — i.e. one for every 40 people, man, woman and child, in Argentina when that figure barely exceeds the average classroom size — cannot possibly be paid beyond a level below most unskilled jobs (a starting salary of 2,900 pesos in Buenos Aires province), even when spending 6.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product on education (CFK’s figure last Friday). A meritocratic nationwide teaching staff would thus seem to be rather more urgent for the nation’s future than a democratized judiciary.
Sooner rather than later somebody is going to have to separate the true educators from the trade unionists so that they can be given the salaries they deserve, thus freeing up funds (not to mention space within an educational debate hitherto monopolized by the teacher pay issue) for the various pending needs of an outdated schooling system neglected for decades. At current pay levels society has little right to expect more than glorified baby-sitters — CFK might have boasted of 99 percent of children of primary school age being enrolled (in part in order to qualify for the universal child benefit) but the real question should be if they are receiving anything resembling an education.